One of the most iconic buildings in the world, the Empire State Building is still towering above almost everything else in Manhattan. An incredibly popular tourist destination many people want to go to the top of the Empire State Building when they visit New York. If you want to Sumit one of the most iconic buildings and take in some of the best views of Manhattan then there are several options available for your trip to the top.
The Empire State Building has 3 different floors you can visit, 2 are included as standard and the 102nd is an additional upgrade. In this review, we take a look at the different options, and let you know which are best along with taking a journey up to the top and sharing some of our favorite images from the top of the Empire State.
We love the Empire State Building and heading to the top is still one of the first things we plan when hitting the City, we just can’t get enough of it, and still rank it No1, despite some serious new competition! – Best New York Observation Decks.
This Iconic Observation Deck is Now Re-Open! so let’s head back up to the top and see if the Experience is still one of New York’s Finest.
The Empire State Building Experience
- Height: 86th Floor (1050ft) and 102nd Floor(1224ft)
- Cost: Adults: $48 – Seniors (62+): $46 – Children (6-12): $41 – 102nd Floor : $36 Extra
- Location: Midtown, 5th Avenue 34th Street MAP
- Prominent Landmarks: Downtown Manhattan, Chrysler Building.
- Indoor or out: Both
*Prices include all Taxes and Fees
Nothing in life is simple and the Empire State Building is no exception. You can’t just go to the top of the building, you need to choose from a number of different options, here are the main basic choices you are faced with.
Main Deck – 86th Floor
- Cost: Adults: $48 – Seniors (62+): $46 – Children (6-12): $41 – Kids under 6 Free
- Express: $87 All Visitors
This is the Vanilla option and the most popular, you only go as far as the 86th floor but this is still one of the highest points in the City. The observation deck on this floor is large and has outdoor viewing areas around all four sides of the building. All other options will visit this floor first and are in addition to it not instead.
For most, this is more than enough The additional options are Icing on the cake but the main deck itself is a superb experience and will truly make you feel on top of the world.
Don’t like queuing? Then the Express Pass will get you straight past any queues and straight to the top. At $87 it’s not cheap though, over $36 just to skip the Queues. Is it worth it? If you are planning on visiting at a very busy time such as the peak summer season then maybe. But on the whole, we do not find queues that bad at the Empire State Building.
Visit early in the day, or late at night and we find there is only minimal queuing. But if you really are allergic to queues or plan on vising at a really busy time (4th July Weekend for example!) then the option is there.
Main Deck and 102nd Floor
- Cost: Adults: $77 – Seniors (62+): $75 – Children (6-12): $71 – Kids under 6 Free
- Upgrade Cost: Adults: $38 – Seniors (62+): $36 – Children (6-12): $34
With this option, you are also given access to a separate elevator to whisk you up to the very top of the tower on the 102nd floor. The observation deck here is much smaller and fully enclosed. Really, the experience is less special than the lower 86th-floor deck with its large outdoor viewing terraces.
But as you get that experience as well, the only question is, is the extra worth it to you? Really it’s only worth the bragging rights to say you have been RIGHT to the top, doing so doesn’t actually get you anything over the main deck, and the small indoor deck is a bit of a let-down. It’s what we refer to as a FOMO attraction, you are just scared you are missing out on something!
A Full Review of this Deck can be found here
- Cost: All Visitors $125 only 100 sold per day. Limited dates are available.
The sunrise experience is a very expensive option, but it doesn’t just get you to the top to witness the sunrise, which while special would not be worth the $125 alone. Instead, it’s a very limited number of people allowed on the experience.
Only 100 people can book per morning. But in reality, at $125 a person, it is very rare the experience books up so there will be very few people up there when the sun makes its appearance. This also means NO queuing and a very exclusive experience in general.
It’s a lot of money and may require a very early start (5:00 am in the Summer) but it is a very special thing to witness the sun come up over Manhattan. The Sky brightens and starts to color up, before finally breaking out over the east river, illuminating the city below, casting its light over Downtown and Hudson Bay.
While most of the color and spectacle can be found at sunset for a fraction of the cost but you better get there early as sunset is easily the busiest time of day and the deck can be VERY crowded.
This Experience is especially suitable if you are maybe planning on giving a ring to someone. They won’t be forgetting this in a hurry!
All Access Tour
- Cost: All Visitors $543.49 ($135 per person)
The Premium Experience is a Private (4 people max) Guided 90-minute tour, giving you exclusive access to the building and absolutely no queues whatsoever. Honestly, we have never done it. It doesn’t strike us as value for money and we don’t mind slumming it with the General public because we are the general public. For anyone pushing the boat out, this could be a good option. We are sure if a proposal was involved the guide would leave you alone at the top for a while.
For us, we just prefer the chance to explore and take our time at the top, not least because we end up taking hundreds of photos! But if you are looking for a private experience it’s not that expensive if you have a group of 4 working out at $135ish per person.
- Cost: All Visitors $67
As we will come to later, most of the experiences can be done either day or night. And really we still don’t know which we prefer. They are both incredible and unique. Do you see the dramatic skyline in all its sunlit glory or do you want to see it sparkling at night like a scene from a sci-fi movie? We find it very hard to choose. The AM/PM experience solves this issue. It gives you two trips to the top, one during the day, and one at night. Perfect.
Btw If you choose a New York CityPASS you get a “same-day return” at night as well included in the price.
The Empire State Building Experience is also included in a number of other New York City Passes to help save you money while visiting Read our comparison here for which pass will suit you best.
What is the Empire State Building Experience Like?
The first job is to head to the main entrance. You will be bombarded with touts offering you reduced-price tickets to the top. As you have wisely pre-bought your tickets (or are using a Pass) you don’t need to consider their scams. However, should it have slipped your mind, don’t buy tickets from street scalpers: wait until you are inside the building and buy direct from the source.
The Experience has recently gone through a makeover and you now enter via 34th Street. Really this is a shame as we used to love entering the working lobby with the iconic Empire State Logo and elevators.
However, the new entrance is custom designed for the Experience with better facilities, Empire State Building imagery, and more efficient queuing systems. Also, don’t worry too much as you still get to visit the classic lobby as this is now used as the exit.
Here we hit the first hurdle, Airport Style security metal detectors. The Queue here can take a little time to get through but as long as you do not visit at a crazy busy time like just before sunset it should be OK, say 5-10 mins, however at very busy times these queues can be upwards of an hour!
Next up is the ticketing. All visitors must now have pre-booked tickets and anyone without will be directed to the new self-serve digital ticket machines. There are loads of machines and queues are very short. You may however not be able to get instant access this way.
After this, is security which is a possible pinch point for queues, but we have not found major issues recently. After this, you enter the exhibition space. This is newly built and is really fun offering insight into the construction of the building along with some nice Photo-ops. Sit on one of the iconic girders in the sky and get a selfie with King Kong Himself!
We find the elevator Queue the only real Queue on the way to the top. But it’s not normally too horrific: 15 minutes is really the max you should ever have to wait as the pre-ques have filtered the traffic out by now. It is normally a lot less, often just one or two elevator cycles. You then enter the elevator where a bellhop will ride with you to the 80th Floor.
This is the main elevator and you will be traveling a long way up in a very short time. The speed of the lift is quite incredible. However, for anyone afraid of lifts it doesn’t in any way feel any different from a normal slower lift, in fact, it’s quite sedate. Apart from the Floor numbers whizzing by and the fact you are so high up when it’s done you really wouldn’t know there was anything special going on at all, but you tick off 80 floors in less than 60 secs!
You are now 80 Floors up on one of the world’s highest buildings. The 80th floor is completely enclosed and hosts the Dare to Dream Exhibit. The Views here are staggering, The concrete jungle sprawling out endlessly for miles. The Exhibit is about the construction of the building and its race with the Chrysler building and is all pretty interesting. You will be eager to catch the final elevator up to the main deck but it’s worth spending a little time here, after all, you have paid to get in there is no rush so you may as well get your money’s worth.
Finally, you head for the lift to the 86th floor’s main deck. As you emerge, you enter the indoor area which is frankly dull and uninspired. Head straight outside to the observation deck for views that will blow you away. Whatever time of day the vista over the island of Manhattan is genuinely breathtaking. We are big nature lovers and love a fantastic natural landscape. This could not be further from that but the sheer magnitude of what man has constructed here is beyond description. Even photos don’t come close to portraying the vastness of the never-ending towering concrete.
After taking in your fill of incredible views, taking the obligatory selfie, using the binoculars, and filling your camera’s memory cards it’s time to head down. The reverse trip can almost take as long as the climb as you will still need to queue for the elevators. But by now any queue stress has vanished as you absorb the incredible views you just witnessed.
If you have tickets to the 102nd floor you will find the entrance just next to the Exit from the 86th floor. Make sure you visit here BEFORE heading down as you cannot get back up once you have left the 86th floor. Here a separate elevator whisks you up to the final deck up in the sky.
How Long to get to the Top Of The Empire State Building?
The Journey to the top of the building takes around 30mins at quiet times. However, this is now mostly due to the various exhibits and photo opportunities you will encounter along the way. Large queues have mostly evaporated.
The introduction of reserved timeslots, brought in for Covid but still in force, has meant wait times are largely removed on the way up. the staggered entry and various stops along the way have broken the crowds up and even while it is very busy there are fewer queues than we have seen before.
We hope this is why the system has remained after Covid, as it is no longer necessary for that reason, but it does really seem to have worked in terms of reducing queues. Of course, there will always be pinch points and sometimes queues will form. However, we really think the days of huge queues and hour-long waits for the top are over.
You can actually probably get to the tops in 10-15 mins if you skip all the exhibitions and photo-ops, but where is the fun in that?
Tips and Advice
It’s Cold – In winter New York can be bitterly cold. However, whatever it feels like on the ground is a patch on what it is like 1200 feet of the ground. It’s colder, it’s windier and unless you are wrapped up warm it’s Going to be Miserable. Naturally in Summer when it’s Scorching this will be no Issue.
Leave the Tripod in the Hotel – Photography Tripods are not allowed. And you will be turned away. There is nowhere to store them so you will have to return to your hotel to store them before coming back again. There is Airport-style security so you won’t get away with it. Small Monopods or a Gorilla Pod should get through but big tripods are out sorry. During the Day this is no problem as the light allows easy handheld shots. But at night it’s trickier.
Use the toilets – on the 82nd floor before going up to ensure time at the top is maximized.
Avoid the Photos – The Souvenir photos provided put you in front of the empire state! It is clear it’s a photoshop backdrop as you were supposed to be on it not in front of it. It’s all a bit naff and overpriced too.
Offer to take A photo – If you see a couple struggling to take a selfie off to take a photo, They will be sure to offer to return the favor, but offering first seems less of an imposition.
What is the Best Time to Visit?
This is really a two-part question. When to go for the best view or when to go for the least queues.
The best time to go for views is Sunset. Pure and simple. You get to see the city in its full daylight glory followed by incredible colors at dusk and finally as it lights up in its nighttime glory. However, for queues, this is absolutely the worst time to go. You are not the only one to work out the beauty of Sunset.
Booking the $125 Sunrise tour would certainly solve this issue but at an immense $ cost. While the AM/PM Experience gives you both night and day views, you lose the color of dusk. If you insist on the full spectacle of the sunset but refuse to queue for it simply buy the Express Pass, costing $87. If that’s too much you have no choice but to wait in line.
If you simply want the quickest time to the top then plan on going early or late. Getting there at opening almost guarantees no queue and a fairly empty upper deck. As the morning goes on the queues build and build as only SO many people can be on the deck at once they have to wait until one lift comes down to send another up. This is, of course, an issue at sunset as if everyone up there is waiting for sunset no one is coming down. You could be stuck in the queue area a not get up till it’s dark and people start heading down.
While 8 AM is optimum, any time before 9-9:30 should be good at all but the busiest times. After that the later you go after dark the quieter it will be. It’s pretty magical up there really late at night and the queue lines can be deserted. Heading up after dinner and few drinks (not too many!) can be an amazing end to a great night!
Our perfect approach to this will see you get all three views of Manhatten with practically no queues whatsoever. We used the New York CityPASS As this offers a “same-day return” to see the tower at night.
First thing after breakfast, head to the tower you will go straight up with little to no queue. You then have the whole day to do whatever you fancy. Then after dinner head up again, again you will enjoy almost zero queues. For sunset, We prefer the Top of the Rock, also included in the CityPASS. Because these tickets are timed, they are limited so you can’t miss sunset due to too many people being at the top. Simply go the day before to book your time slot, and tell the assistant you wish to be there for sunset and they will provide the correct timed ticket. The timing system means there is never much queueing at the Top of the rock.
While we use the CityPASS you could do the same with AM/PM and a standard Top of the Rock Ticket. But that would cost almost as much as a CityPASS and the latter gives you a lot more besides.
There a 4 main observation decks in New York. The Empire State, the Top Of the Rock, the One World Observatory, and the newly built Edge at Hudson Yards. All have their pros and cons. Our favorite is really Top of the Rock the View is just SO good. But there is something so iconic about going up the empire state building if we could only do one it would still be Empire State. The new One World Observatory is a distinct last place. Read our full comparison for more info.
Where to Buy?
Book Direct via our preferred Partner Tiqets.com for instant digital delivery
We always use a City Pass when visiting a major city as we find them incredibly useful in getting the most out of the City. New York has many different options and we cover those in detail here. All of the passes allow entry to the Empire State Building, as really, who doesn’t want to go up this iconic tower?
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Have Your Say
Leave a comment below if you have any questions about the experience. Have you already been to the top? what did you think? What experience did you go for? Feel free to leave a comment if you have anything you would like to add. We would love to hear from you.